Froome worth taking on with route unlikely to suit
Aru offers best each-way value
Starts 2pm Saturday
If Chris Froome wants to become a four-time Tour de France winner, he is going to have to race for it.
The British star will not be able to simply rely on the containing tactics that have become the norm during the recent years of Team Sky dominance.
That is the clear aim of the race planners anyway, with Tour director Christian Prudhomme intent on breaking the ‘catenaccio’ of the Sky stranglehold with a varied route that cuts out the team time trial, cuts down on the individual time-trial miles and cuts back on the capacity for pre-planned tactics.
Catenaccio, of course, was the stifling system most associated with the Inter team of the 1960s that was famously broken 50 years ago by Celtic's Lisbon Lions, and Prudhomme hopes to see some lions out on the road.
Fabio Aru might be the one to make Prudhomme’s wish come true, and he makes each-way appeal in a race that could be more like a Giro or Vuelta in its changeability if the planners have got their calculations right.
Aru, 13th on his Tour debut last year, has already won the 2015 Vuelta and been placed in two Giros and his injury-interrupted season could prove a blessing in disguise.
He returned from almost three months off with a knee injury in the Dauphine and rode strongly for fifth place. Then on Sunday he took another step forward by winning the Italian national championship in impressive style.
A sticking point for Aru might be that Jakob Fuglsang has long been designated Astana’s leader for the Tour, with the Italian supposed to have gone to the Giro instead, and he backed up his position by winning the Dauphine. If they ride their own races, however, it is quite possible Aru’s superior class will emerge as early as stage five.
Let’s not forget one of the lions might still be Froome, who cannot be anything other than favourite based on his 2-1-1-1 record in completed Tours, even though he is winless this season.
Sky’s leader might not be overly disadvantaged by the route as he is far from one-dimensional – remember his daring descent down the Peyresourde last year – and this year’s punchier climbs could help him as much as anyone.
The first of the three summit finishes comes early, at La Planche des Belles Filles on stage five, and that was the scene of Froome’s impressive first stage win on the Tour in 2012, the year he was runner-up to Sir Bradley Wiggins. So he could get on the front foot early even without the boost of a long time trial.
On the negative side, Froome’s pre-Tour form has not been close to its usual level. In his previous winning years he warmed up with victory in the Dauphine and won a stage there each time, but this time he was only fourth overall. Perhaps he was just riding himself into form after a lighter racing schedule this year, but it’s still a worrying diversion from his normal preparation.
The smoothest prep belongs to Richie Porte, Froome’s former lieutenant and his chief market rival this year.
The BMC leader won the Tour de Romandie and looked set to follow the Froome formula by following up in the Dauphine before being mugged on the last day and losing to Fuglsang by ten seconds.
The concern with Porte is that he has a tendency to find trouble and he looks more one-dimensional than Froome. The Aussie has never finished better than fifth in a Grand Tour, has never won a stage, and simply looks too short in the betting.
Nairo Quintana has taken the hardest route by trying to do the Giro-Tour double and he came up 31 seconds short in Italy against the time-trialling might of Tom Dumoulin.
Quintana has won the Giro (2014) and Vuelta (2016) but he has never seemed prepared to make a do-or-die effort in the Tour. He has an obvious chance, but maybe someone needs to tell him that.
Quintana has great back-up at Movistar from Alejandro Valverde, who has been in stupendous form and looks well suited by the route. Even at the age of 37, he could be extremely animated.
This route would have been tailor-made for Alberto Contador at his best, but unfortunately we are getting the 34-year-old version. His form was promising early in the year but then he was a limp 11th at the Dauphine and it’s hard to see him winning now.
Romain Bardet, second last year and prominent in each of his four participations, remains the great French hope. He has positives – an attacking mentality, great descending skills, a good sixth in the Dauphine – but it is questionable whether he has taken another step forward and he will be a marked man now.
F Aru 1pt e-w 16-1 Betfred, Betway
Record number of finishers looks unlikely to be repeated
A record 174 cyclists made it to on to the Champs-Elysees in last year’s Tour de France.
And were it not for Tony Martin’s withdrawal prior to the final stage in Paris that figure would have been even higher.
However, such a vast number of Tour finishers is the exception rather than the rule so it could pay to bank on fewer members of the peloton making it to the French capital this year.
Since settling at 22 teams of nine cyclists in 2010, there have been on average 165 finishers.
Last year’s high was the only time in the Tour’s 103-year history that there have been more than 170 riders completing, making it all the more surprising to see bet365 setting their line of finishers at over/under 172.5. Going short would seem the most logical play at that mark.
Despite having four of the last five winners of the yellow jersey, Team Sky have never won the team classification at the Tour.
Movistar have taken the last two team titles and with a two-pronged GC attack in the form of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, they may have the edge in this contest again.
With times calculated by adding the times of the three best riders of each team per stage, Sky can be inconvenienced by their conservative approach.
Sky’s Tour bid is focused solely on the interests of Chris Froome, which tends to end in his domestiques having spent most of their energy before the finish.
Movistar are usually a little more proactive in races which tends to suit this classification.
Under 172.5 finishers
4pts 4-6 bet365
Movistar to win team classification
2pts 7-4 Betfair, Paddy Power